Review by Olivia Ruggiero
Fledgling is a new Australian play by Lilly Hayman based on The Flight of the Birds by Joshua Lobb. The play comprises of fleeting moments out of a family’s life, seemingly unconnected, until the final moments of the work that beautifully piece together those moments.
This piece of art is a wonderful way to close the Panimo Pandemonium Festival. Lily Hayman’s writing is so authentically Australian, relatable, and articulate. She deftly adapts Lobb’s novel for the stage with eloquence. Hayman also shows off her skill as a director. The precisely choreographed moments elevate the work to another level, creating beautiful tableaus. She handles the space well, most of the time, unfortunately some moments are played to the Bio Box and lost for some audience members on the far wall. Hayman’s ideas of physicalising emotion translate well to the stage – the ropes representing the internal mental struggle are also used to create the image of wings flying at rapid speed. Hayman pushes the bounds of creativity and excels.
The cast are so attuned to each other’s movements and synchronise so perfectly in their choreographed moments. They redefine the meaning of ensemble with their co-ordination and chemistry. Jessica Melchert is a natural actress, who consistently makes believable and relatable choices. She is magnetic from her first entrance and creates a loveable character. Ben Stonnill perfectly encapsulates the struggle within his character with a clear backstory and honest portrayal. He handles the flow of his tricky storyline well. Claire Gilmour truthfully captures the innocence (and at times belligerence) of children in her embodiment and portrayal as the daughter. She transition’s clearly between childhood and adulthood. Michael Ho plays several roles and does them all with skill. His most memorable appearance is his work as “the seagulls” – he masterfully recreates that imagery with just the help of white scarves in a visually stunning scene.
The greatest thing about this cast is how unified they are – there is not a weak link among them and at the same time not a “standout” performance. It is so well-balanced and part of what makes this show special.
The set design is incredibly bare, but these performances fill the blank canvas that is KXT with colour and vibrancy. Samuel Read’s lighting design does wonders to aid this as well. It is a natural lighting design with nothing “flashy”, it is not about the spectacle but about the real. This couples brilliantly with Hayman’s script and direction and the casts portrayals.
Fledgling deals with some heavy topics and real issues but it does so in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling burdened. There is light and shade within this piece so that when it does tackle mental health, grief and trauma it leaves a lasting impact. Fledgling is a play I would love to see again. It’s a new Australian work with real promise – it should be printed, sold, studied and performed again and again. A fantastic production and an enjoyable night at the theatre.